NDTO Member Profile: Appareo
Posted on December 15, 2016
At Appareo, Director of Solutions Engineering, Brad Thurow, holds an exciting position – he’s in charge of conceiving new products and turning them into reality. In his position, “concept” is a verb as he takes a look at real world issues and solves them with electronics. Thurow works in business development, helping to define new projects that will be solved by the team members at Appareo. Appareo is a design, development and manufacturing firm of electronic and software solutions with headquarters in Fargo. The company predominately works in the aviation and agriculture industries.
Many of Appareo’s products start with a customer having a specific equipment need. First, Thurow will gather details on the issue from the customer, which is often an original equipment manufacturer. Thurow and his colleagues will then outline a custom design and scope of work to solve the problem. Next, the technical and financial feasibility of the design is analyzed. If the analyses are positive, a team of engineers at Appareo will carry out the design of the product, in partnership with the manufacturing personnel under the same roof.
In this manner, Appareo can work ideas from their very earliest beginnings to the finished product. Thurow’s team also travels and prospects new industries to look for additional opportunities for their engineers to innovate. Thurow often travels to Europe to support Appareo’s satellite engineering office in Paris and to attend European agriculture trade shows. There he connects with the company’s existing customers, meets potential customers and discusses new product concepts.
“I have a really cool job,” admits Thurow, who is both an electrical engineer and a pilot. He uses his flying experience during the design of Appareo’s avionic products.
One of Appareo’s most popular avionic products, the Vision 1000, was created in partnership with European customer Airbus Helicopters Inc., which was looking for a new flight data monitoring system to increase safety during flight. The Vision 1000 was unveiled in 2009 and combined cockpit imaging, GPS/INS monitoring, cockpit ambient acoustic data and a flight data monitor in a very small, lightweight design. The Vision 1000 is a low-cost flight data recorder that can be installed in any aircraft. The data collected can then be analyzed using Appareo’s 3D flight analysis and imagery playback software for safety and training purposes. This is especially useful within the air ambulance industry, which often finds pilots in situations requiring steep approaches and confined movements. The product is now shipped all over the world.
“Vision 1000 flies on every continent,” said Thurow. “It’s used in emergency medical, police and security aircraft. We export quite a bit of these.”
Appareo attributes its rapid growth to a passion for innovative engineering. The company encourages their teams to be creative and take risks when designing solutions. They believe that taking risks, and tolerating failure, is essential to the innovation process. This is listed as one of their core values.
The company also believes as a private company – it’s owned by four members of the Batcheller family – it has much more freedom to remain innovative. There are no outside shareholders nor investors to hold back its research and development spending.
Appareo was started by entrepreneur Barry Batcheller, who is well known as a founding partner in the electronics design and manufacturing company, Phoenix International. Phoenix International was established in 1987 as the cornerstone tenant of the NDSU Research and Technology Park. Deere and Co. purchased Phoenix International in 1999 after the company had grown to more than 1,400 employees. In 2003, Batcheller began Appareo as a start-up company in the NDSU Research and Technology Park, focusing on advanced technology within aerospace, defense and transportation applications. In 2005, Batcheller’s son David, a University of Minnesota alum, joined as Chief Operating Officer. In 2007, Appareo’s ALERTS flight data monitoring solution for light aircraft received the Product Breakthrough of the Year award by Aviation Week and Space Technology news publication. Next, Appareo received the American Helicopter Association’s Harry T. Jensen Award in 2008 for outstanding contributions to helicopter safety and reliability. In 2011, Inc. Magazine named Appareo the #1 fastest growing engineering company in the nation.
The most recent exciting development for Appareo has been their panel-mounted Stratus ESG transponder product earning the FAA’s Technical Standards Order authorization earlier this year in July. The Stratus ESG is a 1090 ES transponder that helps aircraft owners meet an FAA mandate that takes effect on January 1, 2020. The mandate requires all aircraft in regulated airspace to install an automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) Out system, which automatically transmits their position, velocity, altitude and other information to air traffic controllers and nearby aircraft. Appareo markets it as the industry’s most affordable solution for compliance with the ADS-B Out mandate, which will affect many private aircraft owners.
Appareo has found success within the international agriculture industry, as well. Canadian company Seed Hawk commissioned Appareo to redesign the electronics in their large, no-till air-seeder systems. Seed Hawk prides themselves on leading the evolution of precision seed placement. Before working with Appareo, Seed Hawk was having difficulty finding an electronics partner that was willing to innovate and develop custom solutions. Appareo stepped in and embarked on a multi-million dollar, multi-year project to design a completely new electronics system, as well as the control logic and accompanying user experience for Seed Hawk’s air seeders. Seed Hawk now has a custom solution named iConTM, that uses an iPad to monitor and control all aspects of the air seeder system. The iCon program can also map the seeded area, and is able to read prescription map files transferred to the program. The ease of use of the iCon Wireless Control System resulted in Seed Hawk selling out of the product in just a few weeks, and the system earning two AE50 innovation awards in 2015 from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Swedish agricultural equipment manufacturer Väderstad employed Appareo to design an entirely new machine control architecture on their planters and seeders. Väderstad, known in Europe for their premium equipment, wanted to set a new market standard with their electronics. Appareo successfully designed a system that not only maintained electronic compatibility with other brands’ terminals, but also allowed the user to control all functions wirelessly from a virtual terminal, iPad display or both at the same time. This was the first agriculture machine to utilize a mobile tablet in this way. This technological leap made Väderstad a leader in the industry and brought the company success even during a down-market economy.
Connecting agricultural machinery with information via satellite is the next step.
Appareo announced in August of this year that it will deliver wireless satellite connectivity to its products globally using Iridium Communications Inc.’s satellite communication coverage. The coverage area spans the entire globe, including polar regions. This will allow remote precision agriculture and machine monitoring anywhere in the world, increasing productivity for farmers. Appareo products using this technology will become available in early 2017.
For more information on Appareo, visit https://www.appareo.com/.